New Tennessee athletic director Danny White announced the hiring of UCF’s Josh Heupel on Wednesday afternoon to be the 27th head football coach in the program’s history. Here’s everything Heupel said about his decision to take the Tennessee job:
These quotes were transcribed by Tennessee’s Sports Information Department.
“What an awesome day for myself and our family. We’re so appreciative of the warm welcome we’ve received. I’m just excited to be a part of the Vol Nation and the Vol family. I want to thank Chancellor (Donde) Plowman and President (Randy) Boyd for your vision of what you want and foresee in athletics—the importance it has on a college campus and entrusting us to mentoring and teaching these young men the game of life, not just the game of football. To Danny, obviously those same sentiments, but having been around each other for three years, believing in the process we take our kids through and understanding what we’re trying to accomplish on the football field. We want to go and chase championships and we want to be our absolute best. At the same time, we want to develop them in life too. We really appreciate you all entrusting us with the care of this program and these young men and individuals.
“When I was chatting with Chancellor Plowman last night, one of the things that really registered with me and made this job opportunity so exciting was the aligned vision among leadership with everyone sitting here today. We talked about the importance of having a shared common vision, being able to work at our purpose to accomplish those things every single day and everybody pulling the rope in the same direction. When you have that in leadership, that’s going to transcend through your entire campus and hopefully through our entire state here in Tennessee. When you do those things, great things are capable of happening, and obviously, I’m here because we have the opportunity to go chase championships on the football field.
“I also want to take this time to thank my wife Dawn, who’s been my copilot in life. She’s probably piloting most of the time when I’m at the office. Also, my daughter Hannah and my son Jace. They woke up to a changed world today. They were excited—there may have been a few tears at the beginning of the day, but they were excited when they saw the orange T on the plane. They were ready to jump in and get here. Jace is excited. I was texting with Peyton Manning earlier and Jace is counting down the days until he’s able to catch a ball from him on the football field.
“I also want to thank the players and staff at UCF. The last three years have been a tremendous journey and ride. I appreciate them for allowing me as their coach to be a part of their individual journey and to accomplish so many great things. I’m so proud of who and what we were as a program and I’m just excited to see their success this year. There’s great leadership inside the locker room and when you have great leadership from within, all things are possible, and I appreciate each and every one of them.
“Another thing that registered with me on our Zoom call last night was Danny’s conversation with the leadership council on the football team and the things they are focused on accomplishing. That’s why they came here to one of the biggest brands in college football. One of the biggest things they said they wanted inside the locker room was connection. That’s one of the things that’s extremely important to me. It’s been really hard this past year with COVID, but you play this tough, physical and demanding game because of connection. There has to be a sense of belonging and brotherhood that resides in that locker room. To do that you have to spend time with each other and you have to do things outside of the game. That’s one of the things we try to pride ourselves on in our program, here at Tennessee as we move forward. That sense of connection allows you to chase greatness outside of the game. When you are connected you have a chance to love, when you are able to love you are able to sacrifice for your teammates and this game is all about sacrifice. Accountability is also something we talked about. Making sure that we’re being accountable to each other, the program, the process and the people that reside inside of it.
“On the offensive side of the football, Danny mentioned some of the successes we have had as a program at UCF and throughout my tenure. We’re going to play with tempo. We’re going to be the aggressor. We’re going to play with our skill players in space. We’re going to give them an opportunity to push the ball down the field. At the same time, if you watch what we do, we’re extremely balanced in our approach in terms of run and pass. We want to be physical and dominate the line of scrimmage. Those are all things that are going to translate to what we’re doing here in Knoxville. At the same time, that aggressive mentality that we have on the offensive side of the football is going to translate to the defensive side of the football. We’ll be multiple in our fronts. We’re going to have three- and four-man fronts and we’re going to bring pressure. We want to create negative plays. In college football it’s about creating big plays on offense and negative plays on defense and getting people off schedule. If you put those things together, you have a chance to have a really successful game plan and ultimately a successful season. I’m excited about embarking down that road as we get together as a football program after this.
“One thing that is important to the lifeblood of any football program, but to the lifeblood here at Tennessee is recruiting. That’s the great thing here, you have a national name with a national logo that allows you to go coast-to-coast to attract the biggest, the best and the brightest. At the same time, the most important thing we can do is lock down our borders. We have to keep the kids in this state here and that’s for multiple reasons. They’re going to play championship caliber football, they’re going to be developed, they’re going to have an opportunity to move on to the NFL, they’re going to get a great degree and they’re going to be empowered to live inside this state once they’re done with that degree. We have to do that inside of our own borders and that’s going to come from me. A focus on recruiting in-state from me has to transcend through our coaching staff, but it also has to reside inside every Vol fan in the state of Tennessee. I say that meaning that everyone has to bring energy and passion, while sustaining a positive movement through everything we’re doing to create the sustainable change we need to lock down the borders here with our recruits.
“I’m excited about what we’re embarking on. I’m excited to be a part of Vol Nation. I’m excited to do my very best for the state of Tennessee every single day. I promise you that our staff will do the exact same thing and I promise you that we are going to embark on becoming what we’re capable of becoming as a football program day-by-day and chasing and winning championships.”
On how soon he will assemble his coaching staff and if he will consider staff members from UCF:
“We’ll consider staff members from Central Florida. We’ll do that. Also, current members on this staff, we’ll have a conversation with them here, with the members here at Tennessee. It’s important that we put together a staff at the right time and that we get the right people, more than it is simply about the urgency of putting that staff together. But yes, we want to do it in a timely fashion.”
On his message to Tennessee players and if he will recruit any former players from UCF:
“I will not recruit players off of a roster that I was a part of. Don’t believe that’s the right thing to do. To the current members of this football program and this roster: We need to be a family. We need to act like a family. Everybody’s got a different perspective based on their background, of what a family is at times. When you sit in front of your team and there’s 105 guys in front of you, everybody’s got a little bit of a different perspective. But at the end of the day, a family to me is defined [as] when push comes to shove, that family stays together. Let’s stay a family. Let’s trust the people that are in place to help you become what you’re capable of. You chose this university for the right reasons. I’m saying [to the players], you have the chance to be an elite football program. The tradition says that it should be. It’s our job to get it back to that level. You’re going to get an elite education and be in one of the best communities in college football.
“You walk outside (this room) into that stadium … I’ve coached here, and that’s an electric stadium. There’s not a better atmosphere in college football. I cannot wait to walk out to that, post-COVID next fall, and hear Rocky Top being played as we’re running out. That, I just got goosebumps thinking about it. All those things are still here. Trust me, our leadership, who I’m going to bring in, and give us a chance for our family to become connected. Let’s go have fun together. Work hard, but let’s have fun together and compete.”
On the NCAA investigation and its impact on his decision to take the job:
“I had very frank conversation with every person of leadership about what had transpired, what their knowledge is, what they believe is going to transpire as far as any penalty. The reason that I’m standing here today is because I believe in a very, very, very bright future for Tennessee football. I believe that there’s a minor speed bump that we’re going through, but the kids that are in our program right now and the kids that are being recruited are all going to have an opportunity to go play and chase championships.”
On his offensive philosophy and coaching background:
“At the end of the day, you become a culmination of everything that you’ve done. But you really do change year-to-year, based on what your personnel is. That’s who your quarterback is, what your skill set is there, [and] who are the skill players around him. Whether you’re going to play in three-wide-receiver sets, four-wide-receiver sets, or you’re going to be in two-tight-end sets. We’ve played in all of those things. It comes down to always looking at … I think it’s critical on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s the same thing I’m going to talk to our defensive staff and our special teams staff about, is don’t look at what kids can’t do. Look at what they can do at a high level. Put them in a position of success. That is a coach’s job. Understand who your players are and put them in a position of success. We’ll base what we do offensively, as far as our personnel groupings and some of the subtle schemes, based on what our personnel is. It’s grown and changed throughout the years, for sure.”
On how he will go about establishing a new system in one offseason and if Kevin Steele is someone he would like to keep on staff moving forward:
“I’m going to have conversations with everybody that is on staff, and I’ll touch on that question first, I think that’s important. We’ve done it successfully multiple times in different places that I have been. Your coaches have to get caught up to speed on what you’re doing if they haven’t been inside of the system. You got to coach your coaches, and then your coaches have to put in time with your players. There’s only one way to get to where you need to be, and that’s time, effort, and energy. Our players have to be willing to go above and beyond to get to where we need to be. We will be able to get there, no question in my mind. As we get into spring ball, through summer workouts and by the time we get to the end of training camp – we’ll be in good position by the time we hit the ground in the fall. ”
On what the firing in 2014 at Oklahoma meant to him and his career:
“It gave me a chance in some ways, just to restart and look at what I wanted to do on the offensive side of the football. As a coordinator, you are always going to try to carry out your coaches’ vision. There were a lot of things we did successfully. I think we were top 10 in the country in offense that year and playing with a freshman quarterback that maybe started the last two thirds of the season and ran into a buzzsaw in the bowl game in which we saw a really good Clemson football team. It gave me an opportunity to re-shift my focus on what I wanted to be as far as an identity on the offensive side of the football.”
On the challenges of being hired in late January, opposed to coming in typically in November as a new hire, with signing day and spring football:
“The toughest part is getting a hold on what your roster actually is and what are the needs. With signing day being as close as it is, and all those vacancies you want to fill and hold them – it’s a different landscape now too because of the transfer portal. We talked about that as far as our roster here. Junior college football is taking place this spring as well. So, as you get to spring ball, you potentially are going to need to fill some spots on your roster at that time as well. It is a different cycle and unique than what it has been in the past.”
On how the players at UCF handled him leaving and if he was able to talk to them, and also if being able to compete for championships at the highest level have anything to do with his decision:
“I got an opportunity to talk with our football team in Orlando this morning. It was important to me that we did that. At the same time, I created a video message for our new football team here in Knoxville. They were able to simultaneously, as I was having that conversation with them, receive a message from me. What I saw as the future of Tennessee football, and things that are important inside of our culture. I love the players in Orlando, it was a hard morning. I said that about my kids, when they found out that their home ways going to change, but they are excited now too. That was a tough conversation because you care deeply about the people you are pouring a lot of your time and energy into as we did. For my family and I coming here, it is because we believe in this university. We believe in this football program. We believe in the leadership that we have here in place, and it’s clearly aligned. There’s a direct correlation to that alignment, and the ability for me to go do my job at the highest level.”
On how he feels he grew as a head coach during his time at UCF and what he learned about the SEC during his time at Missouri:
“I think your communication skills and how clear your communication has to be, not just with your football coaches, but with every support staff group that interacts with your players to give them the best opportunity to be successful. I think that’s the No. 1 thing as I look back on the last three years. I’m in a better place today than I was before.
“The line of scrimmage in this league is different than it is in other leagues, so you have to do a great job of recruiting and developing those guys. That size and strength matters up front, you have to do a great job. You’re going to face elite pass rushers in this league, so you have to do a great job of protecting your quarterback as well, just from an offensive standpoint. But I think the line of scrimmage is the biggest difference.”
On his existing relationship with Danny White from UCF and if he thought he may be a candidate at Tennessee when White was hired last week:
“When Danny got the job here, I was disappointed that he wasn’t going to be there (UCF) anymore. We had a conversation after it went public and I wished him well and that was really the end of that conversation. I didn’t really think about this opportunity in that way. I think as a football coach, you’re typically just living in the environment that you’re in. You’re so encapsulated in that and that’s your sole focus that you don’t think outside of those things. I think for Danny and I – and I don’t want to speak for him, but for me, there’s great comfort in coming here and knowing exactly what you’re going to get, the type of leader that you’re going to deal with the most. There’s a clear vision of what he wants for the student-athlete experience, which is extremely important, and a clear vision in what he wants in an athletic department as a whole. There are a lot of entities inside our program here that are doing very well. You look at our basketball programs. It’s my job to make sure that we’re getting this built to the level where we can go chase championships every year too.”
On the long-term vision of sustained success for Tennessee football:
“We had a conversation about what are we looking for and how are we trying to build this. It’s a long-term vision. I believe that we can have immediate success as well. We have really good players inside of that locker room. I’ve watched a little bit of tape and have seen some of them in recruiting. There are good players in there. It’s our job as a coaching staff to get them ready to play their absolute best and go compete every Saturday. But at the same time there’s a long-term vision of what we’re trying to build here for sustainable success and a clear vision of how we’re trying to do that.”
On what qualities a quarterback needs to possess to be successful in his offensive system:
“We’ve had different guys play with a different skill set. Going back through my tenure, we’ve had guys that were pure pocket guys to guys that have been able to use their feet in the run game in designed runs or reading pressures off the edge, using feet in scrambles. And we’ve also had guys that have fallen somewhere in-between. We’ve had 6’3 guys and guys that were 5’10 in the last couple years at UCF. It’s about the makeup and the guy inside as much as it is anything. How competitive are they? I think that’s incredibly important. It drives them every day. What is their ability to react and respond to adverse situations? Can they wipe the slate clean from the previous play? Can they handle all the noise and all the pressure that’s going on around them, not just on gameday, but in everyday life as they walk through campus? Can they meet the expectations and the work habits that you have to have? All of those little things add up to a guy playing at a championship level at that position. And if you’re going to chase championships, you better have a championship quarterback.”
On why his last season at UCF wasn’t as successful as his first two seasons:
“All of our games, except for one loss, were one possession games. They were really tight ball games. This past year, everyone was dealing with it, COVID was a unique situation in itself in terms of how you brought your football team back. What were their workouts while they were away from you? When did you actually get your entire team back? What did your practice habits look like? For us, we didn’t meet until the fourth game of the season, as far as being in a full team meeting that wasn’t virtual. We lost some close ones and at the beginning of the season, I believe we had 10 opt-outs. All of those came because of different reasons and different challenges that they faced in their backgrounds. For some of them it may have been a parent that was ill. Some of them had young children. They had different backgrounds. As the season went along, it wore on. I thought we got thinner as a football team and lost a couple of close ones to some good football teams.”
On how much he will reach out to former Tennessee football players to make sure that know that they’re always welcome:
“If you played football here, you’re welcome back here. I don’t care if that’s spring practice. I don’t care if that’s observing a workout. I want them around our football program. That’s important to me. I hope that when we get back to having spring games – I’m assuming there’s an event that surrounds that weekend for former players, such as a golfing outing and coming to the game. I want guys here. Our guys that are currently playing, hopefully they come back and they’re working out here during the offseason. Those are all things that I think are important. They give back to the players that are here. Hopefully, that does happen. Will I reach out to them? Absolutely.”
On making Tennessee the big focus for in-state recruits:
“I do believe that I’d like to close the borders and not let any of them out. Is it going to be a focus? It absolutely will be a focus for us. That’s the challenge for myself and for our coaching staff, to make contact with those guys and make sure they understand the importance they have inside of our football program and the opportunity that they have inside of our football program. Today being day one for me, I want to give them a clear vision of what we anticipate this looking like when you’re here.”
On if he got any advice from colleagues as he considered the Tennessee job:
“I think all the elements to win here are here. You are the biggest show. You walk out in that stadium and there are 100,000-plus fans inside the stadium. Our facilities are as good as there are in the entire country. You’re going to get a world-class education. A lot of the infrastructure that you need to be successful is absolutely here. Now, it’s about putting the right people in place to reach our young people so that we can have sustainable success here. We certainly believe that, having competed against them in the past, having watched them from afar and having talked to coaches that have been inside of this program in recent history.”